Chinese University of Hong Kong Research: Severity of COVID-19 Impact Associated with Lack of Face Mask Usage

Chinese University of Hong Kong Research Severity of COVID-19 Impact Associated with Lack of Face Mask Usage

Researchers working out of the Chinese University of Hong Kong recently disclosed findings from an analysis the correlation of public interest in face masks and the severity of COVID-19 outbreaks. Furthermore, face mask usage may be associated with the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic in up to 42 counties. The authors summarize that those regions where populations embraced face masks had milder COVID-19 epidemics as reported to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In a study titled “COVID-19 and Public Interest in Face Mask Use,” Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers offered their findings for public consumption: that the public interest in face masks may have actually influenced or even affected the severity of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and actually contain the pandemic is of considerable interest to those health authorities and policy makers grappling ongoing with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Pandemic Continues

As U.S. authorities have been under pressure to loosen up rules around shutdowns due to economic considerations, the United States had a record COVID-19 day recently with over 45,000 new cases. By Wednesday June 24, the most COVID-19 cases in a single day occurred breaking the record on April 26 during the first peak of the pandemic in the U.S., reported CNBC. Worldwide, the World Health Organization reported the record occurred last Sunday with over 183,000 new COVID-19 cases worldwide.

America is the global pandemic’s epicenter with Brazil rapidly catching up. Currently nearly 2.5 million in the United States are infected with a total death count of 124,282. Brazil is approaching 1.2 million cases with 53,874 deaths as of June 25, 2020. Health experts reported that at least in the Untied States, Americans in the South and West decided to go out in full force during Memorial Day. That led to mass infections and further death as expected. In a frightening turn, the disease appears to be infecting more young people

Cultural Considerations

The research team noted that “In many Asian counties like China and Japan, the use of face masks in this pandemic is ubiquitous and is considered as a hygiene etiquette, whereas in many western countries, its use in the public is less common.” The researchers, including Sunny Wong, MD, associate professor, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, report that correlations exists with the wide use of face masks and severity of contagion. Hong Kong is a prime example. Although it is directly adjacent to mainland China, the infection rate of COVID-19 was modest (only 1,110 to date) as compared to the mainland. Dr. Wong notes, “This correlates with an almost ubiquitous use of face masks in the city (up to 98.8 percent by respondents in a survey). Similar patterns are seen in other Asian areas, such as Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.” In the meantime, a very different scenario unfolds in the United States and Brazil where in the aggregate there are over 3 million cases of SARS-CoV-2.

Face Masks or Other Measures…Or Both?

The authors cannot determine if face masks would be more effective than systematic handwashing and social distancing but they do note that the data they have observed leads to the argument that face masks usage is quite important in reducing the severity of the contagion. The researchers suggest for the “non-pharmaceutical” measures taken, both face masks and the combination of hand washing and social distancing are critical activities. And when it comes to cultural issues, Dr. Wong suggests the western societies embrace more Asian acceptance to face masks, noting, “Face masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19, and have a relatively low cost compared tom the health resources and death toll associated with the pandemic.”

Lead Research/Investigator

Sunny H. Wong, MBChB, DPhil

Jeremy Y.C. Teoh, MBChB